Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Allison Price
The consistency of the hoof is determined by many variables. Including biology, climate and diet. Weak hooves are sometimes inherited by some horses, and that cannot be changed. But good care and feeding… will enable a horse to produce and sustain the best possible hooves. A horse may have the genes for great hooves. But insufficient treatment and poor nutrition may lead to hoof problems.
Do nutrients affect the growth and quality of hooves?
There are many nutrients that can affect the growth and quality of the hoof. But very little evidence suggests that adding extra nutrients… to an already healthy diet would encourage the growth of the hoof in the typical horse. But, the energy or calorie content of the diet can have an effect on the growth of the hoof. Research has shown that feeding a lower-calorie diet to young, developing horses… that led to reduced weight gain also resulted in slower growth of hoofs.
Protein deficiency may have the same effect as energy deficiency. Because keratin, a protein, is the structure of the hoof. The hoof growth of weanlings fed 10% protein was only two thirds that of weanlings fed 14.5% protein.
Proteins consist of various amino acids. And amino acid concentration inside the horn of good-quality hooves… is different from that of poor-quality hooves. A study by Geyer and Schulze in 1994… failed to show the impact of specific amino acid supplementation on hooves’ development.
While the essential amino acid methionine is being considered… necessary for the quality of the hoof, it can cause iron, copper and zinc depletion if fed in excess. And this may be associated with crumbling horn and white line disease. To build a permeability barrier that helps in cell-to-cell adhesion… fats are a need to help prevent the penetration of bacteria and fungi into the horn. So, diets containing enough fat levels may be helpful for the hoof.
Mineral balance affects hoof growth and quality
A proper mineral balance is also important for the growth and quality of the hoof. A research by Harrington, Walsh and White in 1973… found that zinc was significant in the normal keratinization of the hoof. There was less zinc in the hoof horn and plasma in horses with insufficient hoof horn strength… than in horses with no hoof horn damage.
Calcium and phosphorus, and the ratio of one to the other, also influence the growth of the hoof. In the hoof horn, calcium is a need for cell-to-cell attachment. It is also essential in the metabolism of intercellular lipids. The absorption of calcium from the small intestine… can be blocked by excess phosphorus. This can cause weak and irregular bones and impair cell-to – cell attachment.
As an antioxidant for the defense of cellular membranes, selenium is essential. But excess selenium in the diet can contribute to the replacement of sulfur. With selenium in the keratin fibers. Resulting in poor structural integrity. Chronic selenium toxicity can result in loss of hair, coronitis. And coronary band bleeding. As well as hoof sloughing and even laminitis.
Biotin’s effect on hoof growth
Biotin is the most investigated vitamin linked to hoof development. It is a water-soluble vitamin that is being produced by microbes in the digestive system. Varying findings on the impact of biotin supplementation on hoof growth… and quality have been documented by controlled studies.
To help certain horses develop stronger hooves… biotin supplementation showed little benefit in other trials. And one study reported a decreased growth rate with biotin supplementation. The supplementation level was 10 to 30 mg. of Biotin every day over a span of nine to 38 months. And changes have been noted in some but not all horses.
There may be some gain from a medicinal dose of biotin supplementation… for horses that have low hoof consistency. Despite good environmental conditions and balanced diet. But for most horses, a diet of biotin that exists naturally, a good balance of amino acids and fatty acids. And proper vitamin and mineral fortification can promote excellent growth rates. And growth efficiency of the hoof.
There are many nutrients that have a direct effect on the hoof’s growth rate and stability. The most important factor in the development of a normal hoof… is the balance of these nutrients with each other.
Nutrients Need for Healthy Hooves
The intake of protein is essential. And by providing good quality hay, protein requirements are generally met. But if hay is the only source of protein in the diet… there might be some essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that may be reduced.
Lysine is being considered the first limiting amino acid. Because in conventional horse feed, it is a need in quantities that may be small. Lysine is a significant component of many structural tissues within the body. And is vital for hoof health. The wall of the hoof made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin contains a significant proportion of the amino acid, cysteine, containing sulfur. To increase its intensity, sulfur is critical in producing crosslinks. Within the strands of keratin.
Cysteine can be made inside the body (it is not necessary in the diet). Provided there are enough quantities of the amino acid methionine. Which is essential in the diet. Soybean meal is an excellent source of these amino acids. And in most commercial feeds and ration balancers, is usually an ingredient. Or, the industrial feed mix can be individually added to these amino acids.
To prevent drying and cracking, essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and alpha-linoenic acid are important for forming a permeable barrier on the outer layer of the hoof. A good source of linoleic acid is soy and corn oil. While a good source of alpha-linoenic acid is flaxseed oil. These are also mixed into equine feeds.
Calcium is an essential cofactor. For the enzymes that cause epithelial cells to be keratinized. And helps in the formation of sulfur-sulfur bonds. Hay is also a good calcium source and used in equine feeds as well. Zinc is also considered to play a role in normal hoof health. As white line disease on zinc-deficient diets has been shown to be more common in horses.
In the integrity of the epidermal cells (skin) that are keratinized to form the hoof wall vitamin A plays a role.
Biotin is an essential cofactor for the enzymes involved in keratinization. And plays a role in the synthesis of general proteins. Biotin is one of the B vitamins that are being produced within the digestive tract of the horse. By microbial organisms. And in the horse, deficiency is very rare.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!